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Conditional Random Fields for Fast, Large-Scale Genome-Wide Association Studies

Jim C. Huang, Christopher Meek, Carl Kadie, and David Heckerman


Understanding the role of genetic variation in human diseases remains an important problem to be solved in genomics. An important component of such variation consist of variations at single sites in DNA, or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Typically, the problem of associating particular SNPs to phenotypes has been confounded by hidden factors such as the presence of population structure, family structure or cryptic relatedness in the sample of individuals being analyzed. Such confounding factors lead to a large number of spurious associations and missed associations. Various statistical methods have been proposed to account for such confounding factors such as linear mixed-effect models (LMMs) or methods that adjust data based on a principal components analysis (PCA), but these methods either suffer from low power or cease to be tractable for larger numbers of individuals in the sample. Here we present a statistical model for conducting genome-wide association studies (GWAS) that accounts for such confounding factors. Our method scales in runtime quadratic in the number of individuals being studied with only a modest loss in statistical power as compared to LMMbased and PCA-based methods when testing on synthetic data that was generated from a generalized LMM. Applying our method to both real and synthetic human genotype/phenotype data, we demonstrate the ability of our model to correct for confounding factors while requiring significantly less runtime relative to LMMs. We have implemented methods for fitting these models, which are available at


Publication typeArticle
Published inPLoS ONE
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